Antonino and the archive today

The world seems to need more pictures, more ways to fit them into our worlds; their omnipresence today appears to be tomorrow’s opportunity to create a competition to create more, more images and more ways to create them. Imagery creation, creating image. The ticking of the shutter release even on shutter-less cameras an increasing soundscape to all we do. Much has been said of the volume of pictures that flood our lives, Kessels’ installation of the Flickr upload in a 24 hour period is dwarfed if compared to all pictures made in the same period on the day he chose and already those numbers pass into the penumbra of a new day’s dawn of image creation. That of today.

At the turn of the previous century, on the cusp of modernism, Kodak provided the means of democratization in the medium by which the image both devalued and exalted the object of it’s gaze. Atget and Lartigue, the vernacularists attempting to catch the exhaustion that Calvino’s Antonino would come to accept, that the only course left was to photograph the photograph and not the photographed because it was already in an image album somewhere. The banal becoming first more beautiful and then, later in the century, reveling in a connoisseurship of the tawdry and mundane and as the clock ticks the numbers rise and their value, outside the speculated and manipulated, reduces. The worth of the photograph maker continues to diminish, the currency of the artist in a world now flush with bandwidth seems to be being directed to the walls of those that were not targeted by Kodak and are now by Nokia and Apple.

Cameras are now no longer a choice decision; they are part of the furniture of life. Exclamations of surprise at the cohabitation of image capture and creation with voice telephony is no longer shrill; it is now a purposeful decision to elect not to have a camera/phone or indeed a phone/camera. The interconnectedness is deemed not an optional extra but a choice au natural, why wouldn’t it be there? The camera exists as by rights on computers, on mobile phones, on walls, on children’s toys, on pylons, on doors, on spectacles, on kitchen appliances and on and on and on.

This ubiquitous availability informs how we value them, this sense of acceptance that the world is now available through an image has driven the photographer from the news desk in newspapers, from the documentary photographers place at the front line of conflict both national and domestic, the value of these images are as ephemeral as their permanence as records, Antonino’s precept has perhaps more currency today then when first proposed over half a century ago, and now seems more prescient than ever, though tomorrow will declare another record in image creation. Tick tick.

As I regard this medium’s diminishing worth in the stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap world that pervades our every existence as artist, as photographers, as life on this planet I begin to wonder at a most curious phenomena. This ever-reducing worth ascribed to the image has been matched by an ever increasing charge to the very same item. This denomination though isn’t, and cannot be matched by Gursky’s super banality monetary association but by the emotional value attributed to it by both individual and state alike. The photograph has never had so much collateral value, it potency comes despite the general acceptance of it’s lack of legitimacy, it’s mimetic potency when tasked with the presentation of so-called truth.

The creation of an image of a person or property is now more highly governed both in law and by social stigmatic response, than ever before. Individual rights associated with the capture of an image have some echoes with Papuan New Guinean tribes-people who thought that perhaps their souls were being extracted by this devilish contraption. That society feels a need to be protected suggests that the value of the captured image is perhaps even beyond valuation and that it’s very presence as a physical entity – despite it’s physical ephemerality – should be expunged from existence, that to have it available is anathema to the normal structure of a normal society. Calvino found his mid century perspective of his privileged Antonino’s perspective, a fond remembrance of a life without photographic restriction, his model voluntarily disrobing as a prelude to the act of photography, describing herself in an act of humility which guided them to love, had no need for a release form. The release in their case was love; that this love foundered on a photographer’s obsessive need for recreation of the object of his desire is a subjunctive denouement neither could have foreseen.

Indemnification against every possible eventuality is now a precursive intercourse between even complicit subject and object; signs abound about “no photography here”. I wonder if it is a condition of the ‘watched-society’ that fosters this predilection of concern of the potential potency of the image, but it is perhaps more curious that in a time where the image is valued less and less, becoming more and more fleetingly regarded; that it’s potency should have become so charged with emotive currency meaning that few dare to cross the rubicon of personal space to create images that were once standard fare.

Antonino’s search for imagery to photo-copy will, in another half century be perhaps thwarted by a lack of vernacular imagery, despite the omnipresent image capturing technology, despite the fathomless depths of digital storage, as those very images will have been deleted assuming they were ever taken. What then for the archivist to mine for a narrative of the early twenty first century, lost USB devices found and sold on an ebay flea market?

Two shows: Uncertain States annual exhibition in Whitechapel and the John Goto show at Art Jericho, Oxford.

 

What connects these twin exhibitions is Goto’s work Lewisham which appears to have had their first outings at these events and that leads me to consider the effect of context, of the artwork in a situation, but I’ll come to that later.

Uncertain States is ‘a lens based, artist led collective Releasing a quarterly newspaper we attempt to expand a critical dialogue and promote visual imagery. The work reflects some key social and political concerns and challenges how perception is formed in a society like ours, on issues as diverse as politics, religion and personal identity.

In a time where the proliferation of imagery is rendering itself insignificant and meaningless, the artists in Uncertain States are concerned with the intention of the work. All the work published is made to be viewed with consideration and concerned with the meaning and reading of the photograph.

Uncertain States aims to showcase both established and emerging artists also through our exhibitions and web based publications. We include work from all photographic genres. Releasing a quarterly newspaper we attempt to expand a critical dialogue and promote visual imagery. The work reflects some key social and political concerns and challenges how perception is formed in a society like ours, on issues as diverse as politics, religion and personal identity.

In a time where the proliferation of imagery is rendering itself insignificant and meaningless, the artists in Uncertain States are concerned with the intention of the work. All the work published is made to be viewed with consideration and concerned with the meaning and reading of the photograph.

Uncertain States aims to showcase both established and emerging artists also through our exhibitions and web based publications. We include work from all photographic genres.’ Website here

The catalogue for the show lists nearly thirty artists with, perhaps notably, Kennard Phillips, Tom Hunter and  Roy Mehta amongst them. Most of the work has a price tag, indicating a selling show. I had arranged this visit with Fiona Yaron-Field with whom I had contacted after visiting the Taylor Wessing 2013 show where she had been selected for her image ‘Becoming Annalie’. Fiona spent some time discussing the work with us, I was joined by two fellow students: Catherine Banks and Keith Greenough and her generosity was very helpful as we discussed the work and the artists behind them.

My overall impression of this ‘Group’ show is how difficult it was for me to comprehend the diversity, the inclusiveness of all the works on show. Spencer Rowell’s physically layered work that used dimensionality as part of it’s aesthetic explored the notion of self portrait from many perspectives, the layers of narrative matched by the application of layers of substance. The context of the work – which also interested me because of its use of text as a vital component – anchored in the written word became cogent only after Fiona provided the circumstance of the work and that opening to the work was extremely important to my comprehension – at least partways. Julian Benjamin’s ‘experiments in social fiction’ interested me in its use of a fictive narrative to develop ideas – in this case – as he says: “These are not pictures of things, these are pictures of ideas. I’m not saying this thing happened, I’m saying this idea happened.

And this is the photograph to prove it.”

But, as Benjamin says in the catalogue, he uses digital manipulation to create fantastic events, the photograph is evidence of it’s own truth and therefore is a self depiction of the real.

Frederica Landi’s examination of the transient marks on the human skin initially made me think of scarification but when I contemplated further I saw that these marks – the crumpling of skin, the marks of hair and the pressing of clothing to the skin’s surface were all transient marks, these marks reminded me of some work I have planned to explore about love and to which I hope to think about about starting soon.

Fiona Yaron-Field’s work continued her exploration of Down’s Syndrome condition.Ophir, her daughter, was born with is and I have written about it previously here and here. This new work looks at women – the 2% of expectant mothers who know they are carrying a child with this condition but who choose, for many different reasons, to carry the baby to term. It maybe the end of the project for this artist, but her discussion surrounding the work, her motivations were very interesting to hear in the context of the gallery.

So to John Goto’s work Lewisham. The artist spent some time in the 1970’s photographing young black people either singularly or as couples in front of a very makeshift backcloth before he left for Paris and a photographic scholarship that resulted in another work called Belleville. The Lewisham series were represented in Whitechapel by three images which were denoted as being printed by Micro piezo printing. Initially I wondered whether this technology was related to Piezography which I used in it’s very early introduction to the UK as a carbon based pigment ink system. It turns out that Goto was using he term as it relates to every inkjet printer and so I now wonder why, what I thought must have been an aesthetic choice that I couldn’t fathom is perhaps instead a simple issue of technical incompetence – which I can’t understand at all. These Lewisham Lover’s Rock series all have colour casts that I found distract from the observation of the subject. It may be that this colour casting is a deliberate ploy to add a tension to the image and in my lack of comprehension I gave up wondering and asked the artist himself. He very kindly provided me with other information but to the question of colour he hasn’t yet responded.

Now, whilst I am perplexed about the Lewisham series, which have a notion of Sidibe’s work about them his other work Belleville is another aesthetic altogether. These are moderately sized images one achieves a 20” x 16” size, but most are smaller, printed on Agfa Record Rapid with Neutol WA, these are works of beauty in and of themselves. Their consistency of tonal structure is at great odds with the digital prints, their stillness as images are though very similar. What I found myself thinking about is how now through a perspective of nearly forty years hence both sets of images are about memory. The instant generation of memory by the recording of these youngsters in Lewisham and the old architectural studies of Paris which were already steeped in memory as they were photographed.

The Belleville studies were of shop windows, old streets and doorways, old pictures in dilapidated condition, these images were layered in patina after patina of echoing and aching memory, marked by the presence of the jetsam of life and, as in a few images, the depiction of peoples long forgotten in old photographs. These images were still, marking the passing of a time and now, printed as they are in a process and on a paper that no linger exists they are images of something that is no more, just as much as the fleeting capture of the Lewisham Lovers Rock portraits are of a people and a place no longer there – though the genre of Lovers Rock is making something of a comeback – perhaps that is why these images turned up at the gallery in Whitechapel and not the ones that had been selected by the artist originally?

Which leaves me considering the way in which these prints were created. The wider expansive digital prints, from scanned negatives with clear and apparent digital artefacts about them and the gorgeously toned lustrous warm tine, moderately sized prints, printed to express the images in the best possible light. I am confused. Goto kindly provided a link to a Photomonitor article where he suggested I might find the answers to the questions I posed to him earlier today. I’ve read it a couple of times and this question of aesthetic still eludes me.